With the constant influx of new social media apps available, tackling online safety as a parent and knowing which apps are safe and unsafe for your child or teen can feel like an insurmountable task. In order to protect them from the vast array of dangers in the digital world, it’s best to arm your family with information, build a strong bond with open communication, and set clear and enforceable tech boundaries. This article will explore ten apps popular with children and teens that come with hidden dangers that parents should be aware of.
Hot or Not, an app that asks users to rate the attractiveness of other users based on a series of photos, encourages objectifying and rejecting others, creating a toxic superficial environment that can undermine self-esteem and trigger cyberbullying. Worryingly, the app shares a user’s GPS location and has no age verification process. We do not recommend Hot or Not for people below the age of 18.
Down, an app that promotes hooking up and encourages sexting, as well as exposing teens to sexually explicit or suggestive content, nudity and profanity. The app shares a user’s location with other users even when they are not active on the app. Ultimately, Down makes young people vulnerable to dangers such as sexual assault and abduction. While the app is officially 18+, there is no age verification.
Yubo, previously known as Yellow, is a social networking app that encourages friending strangers with a swiping motion like Tinder. The app has recently been at the centre of a number of controversies involving online grooming and unwanted sexual solicitation. Yubo, which enables the streaming of live video and permits location tracking, may expose young people to profanity or crude humour, sexual content and nudity, drug and alcohol references, and mature themes. The app is not recommended for users below the age of 18.
Houseparty, a social media app designed for group video chats, can put young people at risk of sexting, privacy and cyberbullying issues. However, with strict privacy settings, the app offers teens a secure, convenient way to chat with multiple friends simultaneously with low risk of encountering strangers. Ideally, no one under the age of 13 should use the app and parents should be aware if a teenager below the age of 18 is using the app.
Live.ly, a live video-streaming app that lets teens stream their ‘everyday life’ to friends and people across the world, raises high privacy, sexting and cyberbullying concerns with confusing privacy settings. As the live streams are real-time and unmoderated, teens using the app have a high risk of exposure to sexual images or video content. Since children sometimes give out their Snapchat handles and phone numbers to viewers, Live.ly can increase the likelihood a child will meet strangers online and extend that contact beyond the Live.ly app, increasing the risk of child grooming. Thus, Live.ly is not recommended for users under 18.
Whisper, a social confessional app designed to allow users to share anonymous thoughts, places young people at a high risk of attracting cyberbullies and sexual predators. Since the app allows for easy sharing of personal information and images, teens who use this app may potentially use it to send sexts and meet up with strangers. The app tracks a user’s location and a shared whisper can indirectly reveal their location, compromising safety and privacy. The app is completely anonymous and does not allow parental controls. The app is not recommended for users aged below 18.
Sarahah, an app that lets users anonymously speak their minds, puts teens at acute risk of cyberbullying and loss of privacy through location sharing and data collection. Users can send anonymous, unmoderated messages to other users, take screenshots of comments, and share them on Snapchat, creating a danger that this will lead to a teen experiencing cyberbullying across multiple social media platforms. We recommend the app exclusively for people aged over 17 years of age.
After School, a social network for teenagers is completely anonymous. Its private messaging creates a high risk for cyberbullying without consequence. In using the app, a teen may be exposed to mild profanity, alcohol and drug references, nudity and sexual content, and the app tracks a user’s location. Parents and adults are banned from using the app, making it difficult to monitor or regulate what happens online. This app is not recommended for users below the age of 17.
Snapchat, a smartphone app that lets users share time-limited photos and videos, can expose teens to a range of risks, including exposure to harmful or upsetting content, cyberbullying, unwanted contact from strangers, location tracking and sharing, and unsolicited sexual images. However, with strong privacy settings in place, Snapchat can provide a healthy and safe way for teenagers to communicate with friends. The app is recommended for users over the age of 16.
Tbh, an anonymous peer-to-peer commenting and polling platform for teens offers safeguards against overt cyberbullying but may expose them to more covert forms. The app has an alarming disregard for user privacy. The app is not recommended for users below the age of 13.
Protecting children and teens from dangerous online experiences is more likely by remaining vigilant about the features and risks offered by each of the apps they use or would like to download. With this knowledge, families can make informed decisions about the apps they install, set clear boundaries about what behaviour is acceptable online, and help children and teens use apps in the safest way possible. For more helpful resources, consult the Australian eSafety Commissioner and Common Sense Media websites.